Two years ago, General Motors adopted a robotic arm from NASA that could assist their workers to perform the daily tasks. Now Ford has also followed the same steps and has released a full exoskeleton technology to help with employee fatigue and injury. The firm announced that it was introducing the upper body exoskeletal wearable in 15 plants all over the world to support the workers with repetitive overhead tasks. These tasks often force the workers to lift weights equivalent to a bag of flour up to 4600 times a day. Bruce Hettle, Ford group vice president, Manufacturing and Labor Affairs said, “Building vehicles is physically a tough job.”
He further added, “We care about our employees and are trying to help them do their jobs with the least amount of wear and tear on their bodies possible.” The wearables are called EksoVests, and they are the result of a unique partnership between bionics firm Ekso Bionics and Ford, which saw its first pilot in November 2017. Ford has tested the vest in two of its plants in the US and has seen a very positive outcome.
The impressive ability of the vests to assist five pounds to fifteen pounds per arm. Ford employees said that the vests were ‘comfortable’ and ‘lightweight.’ Nick Gotts, an original EksoVest operator at Flat Rock Assembly, said, “I don’t want the EksoVest ever to leave. Any job that’s overhead, I wouldn’t work without it.” EksoVests are adaptable to workers heights, ranging from 5 feet 2 inches tall to 6 feet 4 inches tall. It is refined to cater mainly to Ford factory workers through feedback which was given by the plant operators.
Paul Collins, an assembly line worker at Ford Michigan Assembly Plant during the first trial said, “My job entails working over my head, so when I get home my back, neck, and shoulders usually hurt. Since I started using the vest, I’m not as sore, and I have more energy to play with my grandsons when I get home.” Ford has now extended its EksoVest program to all North American assembly plants as well as those in the Asia Pacific, Europe, and South America. For Ekso Bionics, the partnership has been an opportunity to showcase their life-altering technology.
Jack Peurach, president and chief executive officer of Ekso Bionics, “At Ekso, our mission is to augment human capability with wearable technology and robotics that help people rethink current physical limitations and achieve the remarkable. Advancing our collaboration with a global leader like Ford represents a major step forward in achieving our mission as our EksoVest is deployed around the world to enhance the well-being of its workforce.”